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- Arachne, Volume 6. - 4/7 -
since his brilliant reception, he was still numbered, especially in artist circles, with the most honoured men; he, the blind man, no longer stood in any one's way; conversation gained energy and meaning through the vivacity of his fervid intellect, which seemed actually deepened by his blindness when questions concerning art were at issue, and from a modest fellow-struggler he had become a patron bestowing orders.
The sculptor Soteles, who had followed his footsteps since the apprenticeship in Rhodes, was intrusted with the erection of the monument to Myrtilus in Tennis, and another highly gifted young sculptor, who pursued his former course, with the execution of the one to his mother.
From a third he ordered a large new mixing vessel of chased silver for the society of Ephebi, whose members had lauded him, at the magnificent festival given in his honour, with genuine youthful fervour.
In the designs for these works his rich and bold gift of invention and the power of his imagination proved their full value, and even his older fellow-artists followed him with sincere admiration when, in spite of his darkened eyes, he brought before them distinctly, and often even with the charcoal or wax tablet in his hand, what he had in mind. What magnificent things might not this man have created had he retained his sight, what masterpieces might not have been expected! and his former works, which had been condemned as unlovely, offensive, and exaggerated, were now loudly admired; nay, the furious Maenads struggling on the ground and the Street Boy Eating Figs, which were no longer his property, were sold at high prices. No meeting of artists was complete without Hermon, and the great self-possession which success and wealth bestowed, besides his remarkable talent and the energy peculiar to him, soon aided him to great influence among the members of his profession; nay, he would speedily have reached the head of their leaders had not the passionate impetuosity of his warlike nature led the more cautious to seek to restrain the powerful enthusiast.
Archias's wealthy friends had no such apprehension. To them the lauded blind artist was not much more than a costly dish certain to please their guests; yet this, too, was no trifle in social circles which spent small fortunes for a rare fish.
At the banquets of these princes of commerce he often met Daphne, still more frequently the beautiful Glycera, whose husband, an old ship-owner of regal wealth, was pleased to see famous men harnessed to his young wife's chariot of victory. Hermon's heart had little to do with the flirtation to which Glycera encouraged him at every new meeting, and the Thracian Althea only served to train his intellect to sharp debates. But in this manner he so admirably fulfilled her desire to attract attention that she more than once pointed out to the Queen, her relative, the remarkably handsome blind man whose acquaintance she had made on a night of mad revel during the last Dionysia but one. Althea even thought it necessary to win him, in whom she saw the future son-in-law of the wealthy Archias, for through the graminateus Proclus the merchant had been persuaded to advance the King's wife hundreds of talents, and Arsinoe cherished plans which threatened to consume other large sums.
Thyrone watched Hermon's conduct with increasing indignation, while Daphne perceived that these women had no more power to estrange her lover from her than the bedizened beauties who were never absent from the artists' festivals. How totally different was his intercourse with her! His love and respect were hers alone; yet she saw in him a soul-sick man, and persistently rejected Philotas, who wooed her with the same zeal as before, and the other suitors who were striving to win the wealthy heiress. She had confessed her feelings to her father, her best friend, and persuaded him to have patience a little longer, and wait for the change which he himself expected in his nephew.
This had not been difficult, for Archias loved Hermon, in spite of the many anxieties he had caused him, as if he were his own son and, knowing his daughter, he was aware that she could be happy with the man who possessed her heart though he was deprived of sight.
The fame which Hermon had won by great genius and ability had gratified him more than he expressed, and he could not contradict Daphne when she asserted that, in spite of the aimless life of pleasure to which be devoted himself, he had remained the kind-hearted, noble man he had always been.
In fact, he used, unasked and secretly, a considerable portion of his large revenues to relieve the distress of the poor and suffering. Archias learned this as the steward of his nephew's property, and when to do good he made new demands upon him, he gladly fulfilled them; only he constantly admonished the blind man to think of his own severe sufferings and his cure. Daphne did the same, and he willingly obeyed her advice; for, loudly and recklessly as he pursued pleasure in social circles, he showed himself tenderly devoted to her when he found her alone in her father's house. Then, as in better days, he opened his heart to her naturally and modestly and, though he refrained from vows of love, he showed her that he did not cease to seek with her, and her alone, what his noisy pleasures denied. Then he also found the old tone of affection, and of late he came more frequently, and what he confided to no one else implied to her, at least by hints.
Satiety and dissatisfaction were beginning to appear, and what he had attempted to do for the cure of his eyes had hitherto been futile. The remedies of the oculists to whom he had been directed by Daphne herself had proved ineffectual. The great physician Erasistratus, from whom he first sought help, had refrained, at her entreaty and her father's, from refusing to aid him, but indignantly sent him away when he persisted in the declaration that it would be impossible for him to remain for months secluded from all society and subsist for weeks on scanty fare.
He would submit even to that, he assured Daphne, after she represented to him what he was losing by such lack of resignation, when the time of rest had come for which he longed, but from which many things still withheld him. Yesterday the King had invited him to the palace for the first time, and to decline such an honour was impossible.
In fact, he had long wished for this summons, because he had been informed that no representative of the sovereign had been present at his reception. Only his wife Arsinoe had honoured him by a wreath and congratulations. This lack of interest on the part of the King had wounded him, and the absence of an invitation from the royal connoisseur had cast a shadow into the midst of many a mirthful hour. He had doubtless been aware what great and important affairs of state were claiming the conscientious sovereign just at this time, and how almost unbearable his restless, unloving spouse was rendering his domestic life; yet Hermon thought Ptolemy might have spared a short time for an event in the art life of the city, as his Demeter had been called hundreds of times.
Now the long-desired command to appear before the sovereign had finally reached him, and, in the secure belief that it would bring fresh recognition and rare honours, he entered the royal palace.
Proclus, who neglected no opportunity of serving the nephew of the rich man whose aid he constantly required for the Queen's finances, was his guide, and described the decoration of the inner apartments of the royal residence. Their unostentatious simplicity showed the refined taste of their royal occupant. There was no lack of marble and other rare kinds of stone, and the numerous bas-reliefs which covered the walls like the most superb tapestry were worthy of special attention. In the oblong apartment through which the blind man was guided these marble pictures represented in magnificent work scenes from the campaigns in which Ptolemy, the King's father, had participated as Alexander's general. Others showed Athene, Apollo, the Muses, and Hermes, surrounding or hastening toward the throne of the same monarch, and others again Greek poets and philosophers. Magnificent coloured mosaic pictures covered the floor and many flat spaces above door and windows, but gold and silver had been sparingly used.
Masterpieces of painting and sculpture were the ornaments of the room. In the antechamber, where Hermon waited for the King, Proclus mentioned one of the finest statues of Alexander by Lysippus, and an exquisite Eros by Praxiteles.
The period of waiting, however, became so long to the spoiled artist that he anticipated the monarch's appearance with painful discomfort, and the result of the few minutes which Ptolemy II devoted to his reception was far behind the hopes he had fixed upon them.
In former days he had often seen the narrow-shouldered man of barely medium height who, to secure his own safety, had had two brothers killed and sent another into exile, but now ruled Egypt shrewdly and prudently, and developed the prosperity of Alexandria with equal energy and foresight.
Now, for the first time, Hermon heard him speak. He could not deny that his voice was unusually pleasant in tone, yet it unmistakably issued from the lips of a sufferer.
The brief questions with which he received the blind artist were kindly, and as natural as though addressing an equal, and every remark made in connection with Hermon's answers revealed a very quick and keen intellect.
He had seen the Demeter, and praised the conception of the goddess because it corresponded with her nature. The sanctity which, as it were, pervaded the figure of the divine woman pleased him, because it made the supplicants in the temple feel that they were in the presence of a being who was elevated far above them in superhuman majesty.
"True," he added, "your Demeter is by no means a powerful helper in time of need. She is a goddess such as Epicurus imagines the immortals. Without interfering with human destiny, she stands above it in sublime grandeur and typical dignity. You belong, if I see correctly, to the Epicureans?"
"No," replied Hermon. "Like my lord and King, I, too, number myself among the pupils of the wise Straton."
"Indeed?" asked Ptolemy in a drawling tone, at the same time casting a glance of astonishment at the blind man's powerful figure and well- formed, intellectual face. Then he went on eagerly: "I shall scarcely be wrong in the inference that you, the creator of the Fig-eater, had experienced a far-reaching mental change before your unfortunate loss of sight?"
"I had to struggle hard," replied Hermon, "but I probably owe the success of the Demeter to the circumstance that I found a model whose mind and nature correspond with those of the goddess to a rare degree."
The monarch shook his fair head, and protested in a tone of positive superior knowledge: "As to the model, however well selected it may be, it was not well chosen for this work, far less for you. I have watched your battle against beauty in behalf of truth, and rejoiced, though I often saw you and your little band of young disciples shoot beyond the mark. You brought something new, whose foundation seemed to me sound, and on which further additions might be erected. When the excrescences fell off, I thought, this Hermon, his shadow Soteles, and the others who follow him will perhaps open new paths to the declining art which is constantly going back to former days. Our time will become the point of
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